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Unit information: Hero or traitor? Outlaws in Literature in 2020/21

Unit name Hero or traitor? Outlaws in Literature
Unit code ENGLM0052
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kate McClune
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit examines literary accounts of outlaws, rebels, terrorists and traitors from the thirteenth century to the present. The first half of the course concentrates upon the literary histories of well-known medieval figures that may include Robin Hood and William Wallace, and less prominent figures such as Fouke le Fitz Waryn and the rebellious subjects of shorter Arthurian romances. We then move on to comparative study of more recent depictions of outlaws in the works of Scott, Conrad, and Hamid. A wide range of contemporary non-fiction documents (legal, historical, newspapers) will be used to provide relevant contextual information. In addition to interrogating the notion of outlawry from its literary, legal and historical perspectives, we will use the literary texts to consider the complex distinction between outlaws, freedom fighters, and terrorists. The unit will investigate a range of topics, including the nature of rebellion, betrayal, righteous resistance, and localised warfare. Finally, we will consider the ways in which the reputations of outlaw figures are redeployed in later literary and cinematic depictions, such as ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’, ‘Braveheart’, and ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to

1. demonstrate knowledge and analyse a diverse range of outlaw literature from a broad chronological period

2. apply a critical understanding of the political, historical, and cultural contexts that influence this body of literature

3. evaluate pertinent evidence to illustrate a cogent argument

4. demonstrate skills in textual analysis, argumentation, critical interpretation, presentation and academic writing appropriate to level H/6 using evidence from primary texts and secondary sources that may include but are not limited to medieval poems, films, modern interpretations.

5. engage in independent research

Teaching details

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Assessment Details

  • 1 x 5000 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

• Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, eds Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (M.I.P., 1997) (free online text available)
• Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales, ed. Thomas Hahn (M.I.P., 1995) (free online text available)
• John Barbour, The Bruce, ed. & trans. A.A.M. Duncan (Canongate, 2003)
• Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, ed. Ian Duncan (Oxford Worlds Classics, 2008)
• Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, ed. Michael Newton (Penguin Classics, 2007)
• Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (OUP, 2007)